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New Generation Bomber
Role Stealth bomber
Primary user United States Air Force

The New Generation Bomber program (previously called the 2018 Bomber) is a medium bomber currently under development by the United States Air Force. It was originally projected to enter service around 2018 as a super stealthy, subsonic medium range, medium payload "B-3" type system to augment and possibly to a limited degree replace the U.S. Air Force's aging bomber fleet.



Air Combat Command recently conducted a study of alternatives for a new bomber type aircraft to augment the current bomber fleet which now consists of largely 1970s era airframes, with a goal of having a fully operational aircraft on the ramp by 2018. Speculation that the next generation bomber would be hypersonic and unmanned were laid to rest when Air Force Major General Mark T. Matthews, head of ACC Plans and Programs said "Our belief is that the bomber should be manned" at a May 1 Air Force Association sponsored event. He later cited that the bomber would also likely be subsonic due to the higher cost of development and maintenance of a supersonic or hypersonic bomber. The 2018 bomber is expected to serve as a stop-gap until the more advanced "2037 Bomber" enters service.[1] USAF officials expect the new bomber to have top end low observability characteristics with the ability to loiter for hours over the battle field responding to threats as they appear, something that the B-52H and B-1B have done with great success in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Major General David E. Clary, ACC vice-commander, summed it up by saying the new bomber will be expected to "penetrate and persist". The decision to make the next generation bomber subsonic was made in light of the additional cost and complexity along with the limited value of supersonic speed in a penetrator bomber, as exampled by the B-52H which has out lived the B-58, XB-70 and FB-111 all of which were supersonic and are all now out of service or in the case of the XB-70 proved to be too complex and too expensive to ever enter service in the first place. Another issue is that of cruise missile deployment, currently only the B-52 is allowed under treaty to carry and fire the cruise missiles in Air Force inventory. Major consideration was paid to operation readiness and flexibility, the older B-52 is currently the most reliable of the heavy bomber fleet, and the B-2 is limited in the nature of the missions it can undertake and requires specialized maintenance facilities. In 2006, the program expected that a prototype could be flying as early as 2009.[2] In September 2007, Air Force generals stated that even though the development schedule for the bomber is short, it can be fielded by 2018.[3]


Recent developments

In September 2007, Michael Wynne rejected a call by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments to reduce the F-35 buy in favor of a longer range strike platform.[4][5]

On January 25, 2008, Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced an agreement to embark on a joint effort to develop a new U.S. Air Force strategic bomber, with plans for the new airplane to be in service by 2018.[6] This collaborative effort for a long-range strike program will include work in advanced sensors and future electronic warfare solutions, including advancements in network-enabled battle management, command and control, and virtual warfare simulation and experimentation.[7] Under the Boeing-Lockheed arrangement, Boeing, the No. 2 Pentagon supplier, would be the primary contractor with about 60% of the deal, said sources familiar with the companies' plans. Lockheed, the world's largest defense contractor, would have around 40%.[8]

Northrop Grumman has received $2 billion in funding in 2008 for "restricted programs" – also called black programs – for a demonstrator which could fly in 2010.[9]

The Air Force is expected to announce late in 2009 its precise requirements for a new bomber that would be operating by 2018.[10] In May 2009 testimony before Congress, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates mentioned that the Pentagon is considering a pilotless aircraft for the next-generation bomber role.[11]

In April 2009, Defense Secretary Gates announced a delay in the new generation bomber project that would push it past the 2018 date.[12] This was caused not only by budget considerations, but also by nuclear arms treaty considerations.[13]

On 19 May 2009, Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz said that the USAF's focus in the 2010 budget was on “Long-range strike, not next-generation bomber” and will push for this in the QDR.[14] In June 2009, the two teams working on NGB proposals were told to "close up shop".[15]

On 16 September 2009, Defense Secretary Gates endorsed the concept of a new bomber but insisted that it must be affordable.[16] He said, "I am committed to seeing that the United States has an airborne long-range strike capability – one of several areas being examined in the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review. What we must not do is repeat what happened with our last manned bomber. By the time the research, development, and requirements processes ran their course, the aircraft, despite its great capability, turned out to be so expensive – $2 billion each in the case of the B-2 – that less than one-sixth of the planned fleet of 132 was ever built."[17]

On 5 October 2009, Ashton Carter said that the DoD was still deciding if the Air Force really needed a new bomber and that if the program was approved the aircraft would need to handle reconnaissance as well as strike.[18]

On 11 December 2009, Gates said that the QDR had shown the need for both manned and unmanned long range strike and that the 2011 budget would most likely include funding for the future bomber.[19] The Air Force plans for the new bomber to be multi-role with intelligence, and reconnaissance capabilities.[20]

Design goals

The design goals as of September 2007 are:[3]

  • Subsonic max speed
  • A combat radius of 2,000+ miles
  • A Weapons load of 14,000-28,000 lb
  • Ability to "survive in hostile airspace for extended time"
  • Ability to carry nuclear weapons
  • Designed to use off-the-shelf propulsion, C4ISR, and radar technologies[21 ]
  • Expected first flight in 2016[10]

An August 2008 paper by Northrop Grumman highlighted the following trends and requirements.[22]

  • Airfields available for American use have declined since the Cold War.
  • Hostile cruise and ballistic missiles could shut down the few available airfields.
  • Fewer fighter aircraft will be available to escort the bomber force.
  • Advanced fighter aircraft and surface to air missiles are being made available to potentially hostile states.
  • The current USAF bomber force is small and largely outdated.

See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists


  1. ^ RL34406, The Next Generation Bomber: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress. Congressional Research Service, March 07, 2008
  2. ^ "The 2018 Bomber and Its Friends", Air Force magazine, October 2006.
  3. ^ a b "Senior Air Force Generals To Skeptics: We Can Field A New Bomber In 2018", Defense Daily, September 26, 2007.
  5. ^ Air Force chief links F-35 fighter jet to China
  6. ^ Boeing, Lockheed to work on new bomber,
  7. ^ "Boeing and Lockheed Martin Team for Next Generation Bomber Program", Boeing
  8. ^ "Boeing, Lockheed team up on bomber project",
  9. ^ "Ultra Stealth", Aviation Week, May 26, 2008.
  10. ^ a b Boeing, Lockheed to team up against Northrop for bomber contract, Seattle Times
  11. ^ Gates says next-generation bomber might fly without pilot, CongressDaily via, May 14, 2009.
  12. ^ Gates sees more changes to U.S. weapons in 2011
  13. ^ USAF Bomber Grounded by More than Budget
  14. ^ Schwartz: Service needs long-range capability
  15. ^ RL34406, "Air Force Next-Generation Bomber: Background and Issues for Congress". Congressional Research Service, 18 September 2009
  16. ^ Gates endorses new U.S. bomber project
  17. ^
  18. ^ Carter: DoD, White House Crafting New Presidential Helo Specs
  19. ^ Gates sees funding for new bomber in fiscal 2011
  20. ^ Fulghum, David A. "New Bomber To Focus Heavily On ISR". Aviation Week, 17 December 2009.
  21. ^ U.S. Air Force: No 2009 Money for Next-Gen Bomber
  22. ^ The 2018 Bomber: The Case for Accelerating the Next Generation Long-Range Strike System

External links


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